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The history of Wieringen

the Middle Ages

5. Vikings on Wieringen

In the 8th century the christian kingdoms in England and the European mainland were startled by attacks of wild hoards of barbarians who landed with their fast ships and plundered all the large cities and monasteries. These were the Vikings who had come from Scandinavia on the search for richness. For a long time it has been assumed that the Vikings only visited the Low Countries in order to ramsack the rich tradecities, particularly Dorestad. There was no evidence that they intended to stay indefinite, like they had done in England, Ireland and Northern France. The discovery of a stonework pot with silver coins and jewellery in a field near the hamlet Westerklief on Wieringen in 1996 changed this idea completely.

The vikinghoard of Westerklief

As explained on the previous page, in the dark ages Wieringen was an important strategic stronghold along the route to the major tradecities of that time. It thanked this to the geography: Wieringen was one of only a few higher and solid points in the moorarea that formed North-Holland.

The first Silvertreasure of Westerklief was the first indication that Vikings appreciated this and settled on Wieringen permanently. The silvertreasure, consisting of Carolingian and Arab coins, bracelets and silver bars, is presumably buried by a Danish Viking in a stonework pot in the ninth century.
Amateur archeologists found the treasure with a metal detector. In total silver objects and coins with a combined weight of 1,7 kg were found, partly still in the pot they were buried in. The exact contents were:

  • 6 Frankish armbracelets, out of solid silver with patterns of points hammered into them. This find is rather special, because only in Ide (province Drenthe) similar bracelets out of the same timeperiod have been found.
  • A plaited neckring, made out of six silverthreads. This is a important indication towards a Scandinavian origin. Ornaments like these have been found often in West-Scandinavian (Denmark, South-Norway) finds. This particular model was popular in the second half of the 9th century and the first part of the 10th century.
  • A armring, made out of three twisted silverthreads. For this object Denmark is the presumable origin.
  • 3 Arab coins, worked into jewellery. There is 1 Abbasidian dirhem of Abou al Abbas Safah (750-754 AD), and two Sassanidian dirhems of Xusro II (590-628). The Abbasidian empire had Bagdad as capital, The Sassanidians came from Persia, and ruled the Middle East in Mohammed's days. The Arab coins again point to a Scandinavian origin, considering the tradecontacts the Vikings had with the Middle East since the 6th century. Arab coins have been found in large numbers all across Scandinavia, but only very occasionaly elsewhere.
  • Belt covering. This used to be at the end of a leather belt. A small piece of leather was found in this.
  • 16 silver bars. Especially in Denmark such pieces of silver were used as loose change in the 10th century. In case of payment the piece of silver needed was chopped off.
  • 78 Carolingian silver coins. 63 Complete and 15 broken or in fragments. 47 Denarii of Louis the Pious (814-841), 27 of Lotharius I (840-855) of the Dorestad type, 2 of Charles the Bald (840-877). Since there are no coins dated after 850 it is thought that the treasure must have been buried around that time.
The replica of the treasureThe value of the silvertreasure was considerable, even in the 9th century. The amount of silver was enough to buy a large farm, complete with lifestock and serfs.
The original treasure can now be seen in the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden. A replica is on display in the local museum "het Huis van de Aarde" in Den Oever. The replica shows the treasure as it was found, where the original in Leiden has been cleaned and polished and lies on black velvet.

One year after the initial find, more objects have been found that confirm the Vikings on Wieringen theory: a gold ring after Danish / Frisian design and three more Arab coins.

The second silvertreasure of Westerklief (photo is from the newspaper, which is why it is so folded)
The latest news is that in November 1999 less than 200 metres from the place where the first treasure was found, a second one was dug up. First indications are that this treasure is from approximately the same time. The amount of silver is smaller than in the first find (319 grammes silver), but historically it is as important.
What makes this find so special is the 61 Arab coins - whole or fragmented. When we consider that until this treasure was unearthed only 12 Arab coins were found in the whole Netherlands (including 3 from the first Westerklief-treasure and the 3 that were found some time after that at Vatrop - the other end of Wieringen) the importance is obvious. But what is even more important: this confirms that the first treasure was no anomaly. The next page will tell more about the way the Danish Vikings must have lived here.

More information (in Dutch only): Jan Besteman - Vikingen in Noord-Holland? (Provincie Noord-Holland 1997)

The vikings A vikingsettlement on Wieringen

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